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  • 9th Circuit says CFPB can seek restitution in action against payday lender

    Courts

    On May 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a district court’s judgment finding an online loan servicer and its affiliates liable for a deceptive loan scheme. However, the appellate court vacated the district court’s order, which had imposed a $10 million civil penalty (rather than the requested penalty of over $50 million) and had declined the CFPB's request for $235 million in restitution. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in 2018, the district court ordered the defendants to pay the civil penalty for offering high-interest loans in states with usury laws barring the transactions after determining in September 2016 that the online loan servicer was the “true lender” of the loans that were issued through entities located on tribal land (covered by a Buckley Special Alert). At the time, the district court found that a lower statutory penalty was more appropriate than the CFPB’s requested amount because the Bureau failed to show the company “knowingly violated the CFPA” or acted “recklessly.” In rejecting the Bureau’s requested restitution amount, the district court found that the agency had not put forth any evidence that the defendants “intended to defraud consumers or that consumers did not receive the benefit of their bargain from the [program]” for restitution to be an appropriate remedy.

    According to the 9th Circuit, the district court applied the wrong legal analysis in 2018 when it assessed only a $10 million civil money penalty against the defendants and no restitution payments to consumers harmed by the improper loans. By applying federal common law choice-of-law principles, the appellate court declined to apply tribal law, holding that state laws applied to the loans, thus rendering them invalid. The appellate court determined that the defendants acted recklessly when they attempted to collect on invalid debts after counsel advised in 2013 that such actions were likely illegal. While the defendants shut down the tribal lending program for new loans, the 9th Circuit said they continued to collect on existing loans. “We conclude that from September 2013 on, the danger that [defendants’] conduct violated the statute was ‘so obvious that [defendants] must have been aware of it,’” the appellate court wrote. Noting that penalties for “reckless” violations under tier two were appropriate beginning September 2013, the appellate court ordered the district court to recalculate the civil penalty on remand. The 9th Circuit also directed the district court on remand to reconsider the appropriate restitution without relying on irrelevant considerations that motivated its earlier decision, including (i) whether defendants acted in bad faith; and (ii) “whether consumers received the benefit of their bargain.” Moreover, the appellate court held that the district court erred by stating “that the ‘proposed restitution amount [should be] netted to account for expenses.’”

    The 9th Circuit also concluded that the district court was correct in holding one of the individual defendants personally liable for the company’s conduct. Furthermore, the appellate court held that the defendants’ argument that the structure of the Bureau is unconstitutional did not affect the validity of the lawsuit (which was filed when the Bureau was headed by lawfully appointed former Director Richard Cordray), writing that, as in Collins v. Yellen (covered by InfoBytes here), “the unlawfulness of the removal provision does not strip the Director of the power to undertake the other responsibilities of his office.”

    Courts CFPB Ninth Circuit Appellate Tribal Lending Enforcement Constitution Payday Lending Consumer Finance

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  • 7th Circuit reverses dismissal of FDCPA case involving misleading letters

    Courts

    On May 20, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed a district court’s order dismissing a suit against a debt collection firm that allegedly sent misleading letters to a debtor. According to the order, the plaintiff defaulted on a credit card debt owed to a bank, which hired the defendant for collection services. The defendant filed a collection action on behalf of the bank and obtained a judgment against the plaintiff. The defendant then sent the plaintiff a letter, referencing the plaintiff’s credit card “account,” describing the amount of the judgment as the “balance due,” and offering to settle that debt for 40 cents on the dollar if the plaintiff made the payment within a specified time frame. The plaintiff did not pay the offered settlement amount by that deadline and ultimately learned that interest on the judgment was increasing daily. The plaintiff then filed suit against the debt collector, alleging that it violated the FDCPA by sending a misleading letter that: (i) described the debt as an “account” even though it was a judgment; (ii) listed two different amounts as the “balance due” (the amount of the judgment and the offered settlement amount); and (iii) did not disclose that the debt was increasing daily. The district court dismissed the case, finding that the plaintiff had failed to allege a concrete injury because he did not allege “that he had the ability to pay the debt owed, that he actually paid other debts instead, or that he took any detrimental step as a result of the alleged confusion.”

    On the appeal, the 7th Circuit held that the plaintiff had sufficiently alleged an injury, finding that his allegation that he would have prioritized paying the judgment over other debts “supports the reasonable inference that he had the ability to pay the settlement and that he used his available funds on other debts.” The appellate court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff lacked standing because he was insolvent at all relevant times and could not have paid his credit card debt, finding that this argument raised a factual dispute that should have been resolved with an evidentiary hearing.

    Courts Seventh Circuit Appellate Debt Collection FDCPA Consumer Finance

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  • 9th Circuit: Revived FCRA suit questions reasonableness of furnisher’s investigation

    Courts

    On May 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded a district court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of a defendant furnisher, stating that it is up to a jury to decide whether the defendant’s “reasonable investigation” into the plaintiff’s dispute complied with the FCRA. After the plaintiff defaulted on both his first and second mortgages, the property was foreclosed and sold. Several years later, the plaintiff tried to purchase another home but was denied a mortgage due to a tradeline on his credit report that showed one of his mortgages as past due with accruing interest and late fees due to missed payments. The plaintiff disputed the debt through the consumer reporting agency (CRA) and provided a citation to the Arizona Anti-Deficiency Statute, which abolished his liability for the reported debt. The CRA then told the defendant about the dispute and provided information about the statutory citation. The defendant originally “updated” the plaintiff’s account to show that the debt was being disputed, but continued to report current and past due balances. Yet after the plaintiff again disputed the validity of his debt, the defendant marked the account as “paid, closed” and changed the balance to $0.

    The plaintiff sued, claiming the defendant violated the FCRA by failing to reasonably investigate his dispute and for reporting inaccurate information. The district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that the reports it made were accurate as a matter of law and that the defendant had reasonably investigated the dispute. Moreover, “whether the Arizona anti-deficiency statute rendered [plaintiff’s] debt uncollectible is a legal question, not a factual one,” the district court stated, adding that “the FCRA does not impose on furnishers a duty to investigate legal disputes, only factual inaccuracies.”

    The 9th Circuit disagreed, writing that Arizona law required that the plaintiff’s balance be “abolished,” so it was “patently incorrect” for the defendant to report otherwise. In applying Arizona law, the plaintiff had “more than satisfied his burden” of showing inaccurate reporting, the appellate court wrote, explaining that the “situation was no different than a discharge under bankruptcy law, which extinguishes ‘the personal liability of the debtor.’” The 9th Circuit also held that the FCRA does not “categorically exempt legal issues from the investigations that furnishers must conduct.” Pointing out that the “distinction between ‘legal’ and ‘factual’ issues is ambiguous, potentially unworkable, and could invite furnishers to ‘evade their investigation obligation by construing the relevant dispute as a ‘legal’ one,’” the panel referred to an April 2021 amicus brief filed in support of the plaintiff by the CFPB, which argued that the FCRA does not distinguish between legal and factual disputes when it comes to furnishers’ obligations to investigate disputes referred from CRAs. The CFPB recently made a similar argument in an amicus brief filed last month in the 11th Circuit (covered by InfoBytes here). There, the CFPB argued that importing this exemption would run counter to the purposes of FCRA, would create an unworkable standard that would be difficult to implement, and could encourage furnishers to evade their statutory obligations any time they construe the disputes as “legal.”

    Holding that there was a “genuine factual dispute about the reasonableness” of the defendant’s investigation, the appellate court ultimately determined that it would “leave it to the jury” to decide whether the defendant’s investigation had been reasonable. “Unless ‘only one conclusion about the conduct’s reasonableness is possible,’ the question is normally inappropriate for resolution at the summary judgment stage,” the appellate court stated. “Here, as is ordinarily the case, this question is best left to the factfinder.”

    Courts Appellate Ninth Circuit FCRA Consumer Reporting Agency Credit Report State Issues Arizona Consumer Finance

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  • 5th Circuit rules against SEC’s use of ALJs

    Courts

    On May 18, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the SEC’s in-house adjudication of a petitioners’ case violated their Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial and relied on unconstitutionally delegated legislative power. The appellate court further determined that SEC administrative law judges (ALJs) are unconstitutionally shielded from removal. In a 2-1 decision, the 5th Circuit vacated the SEC’s judgment against a hedge fund manager and his investment company arising from a case, which accused petitioners of fraud under the Securities Act, the Securities Exchange Act, and the Advisers Act in connection with two hedge funds that held roughly $24 million in assets. According to the SEC, the petitioners had, among other things, inflated the funds’ assets to increase the fees they collected from investors. Petitioners sued in federal court, arguing that the SEC’s proceedings “infringed on various constitutional rights,” but the federal courts refused to issue an injunction claiming they lacked jurisdiction and that petitioners had to continue with the agency’s proceedings. While petitioners’ sought review by the SEC, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Lucia v. SEC, which held that SEC ALJs are “inferior officers” subject to the Appointments Clause of the Constitution (covered by InfoBytes here). Following the decision, the SEC assigned petitioners’ proceeding to an ALJ who was properly appointed, “but petitioners chose to waive their right to a new hearing and continued under their original petition to the Commission.” The SEC eventually affirmed findings of liability against the petitioners, and ordered the petitioners to cease and desist from committing further violations and to pay a $300,000 civil penalty. The investment company was also ordered to pay nearly $685,000 in ill-gotten gains, while the hedge fund manager was barred from various securities industry activities.

    In vacating the SEC’s judgment, the appellate court determined that the SEC had deprived petitioners of their right to a jury trial by bringing its action in an “administrative forum” instead of filing suit in federal court. While the SEC challenged “that the legal interests at issue in this case vindicate distinctly public rights” and therefore are “appropriately allowed” to be brought in agency proceedings without a jury, the appellate court countered that the SEC’s enforcement action was “akin to traditional actions at law to which the jury-trial right attaches.” Moreover, the 5th Circuit noted that while “the SEC agrees that Congress has given it exclusive authority and absolute discretion to decide whether to bring securities fraud enforcement actions within the agency instead of in an Article III court[,] Congress has said nothing at all indicating how the SEC should make that call in any given case.” As such, the 5th Circuit opined that this “total absence of guidance is impermissible under the Constitution.”

    Additionally, the 5th Circuit raised concerns about the statutory removal restrictions for SEC ALJs who can only be removed for “good cause” by SEC commissioners (who are removable only for good cause by the president). “Simply put, if the President wanted an SEC ALJ to be removed, at least two layers of for-cause protection stand in the President’s way,” the appellate court concluded. “Thus, SEC ALJs are sufficiently insulated from removal that the President cannot take care that the laws are faithfully executed. The statutory removal restrictions are unconstitutional.”

    The dissenting judge disagreed with all three of the majority’s constitutional conclusions, contending that the majority, among other things, misread the Supreme Court’s decisions as to what are and are not “public rights,” and that “Congress’s decision to give prosecutorial authority to the SEC to choose between an Article III court and an administrative proceeding for its enforcement actions does not violate the nondelegation doctrine.” The judge further stated that while the Supreme Court determined in Lucia that ALJs are “inferior officers” within the meaning of the Appointments Clause in Article II, it “expressly declined to decide whether multiple layers of statutory removal restrictions on SEC ALJs violate Article II.” Consequently, the judge concluded that he found “no constitutional violations or any other errors with the administrative proceedings below.”

    Courts Appellate Fifth Circuit SEC ALJ Constitution Securities Act Securities Exchange Act Advisers Act Enforcement

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  • 5th Circuit reverses decision that a portion of a contract was indefinite and unenforceable

    Courts

    On May 18, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed a district court’s decision to dismiss a suit against a creditor that sold portfolios of delinquent and defaulted debt, ruling that the disputed portion of the contract between the two parties was enforceable.

    According to the opinion, the defendant sold portfolios of delinquent accounts to the plaintiff. The plaintiff and the defendant entered a “forward flow” agreement, where the defendant agreed to continue to send the plaintiff accounts during a specific timeline. Under the agreement, the defendant agreed to deliver “additional accounts,” which would be the same quality as the other accounts that had been sold. The parties could not settle on an agreement regarding the pricing for accounts that were submitted under the forward flow agreement, and the defendant sued the plaintiff for breach of contract. A district court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, which the plaintiff appealed.

    The appellate court found that the district court erred on its decision that the term “additional accounts” was indefinite and therefore unenforceable. The court stated that “[t]aken together, the plain meaning of the word ‘additional,’ the contract’s clear architecture, and various settled principles of interpretation reveal that ‘additional accounts’ refers to all qualifying accounts that accrue quarterly.” The appellate court also noted that it “cannot ignore that this argument was not presented to the district court,” and that it will not speculate on why [the defendant-appellee did not] reached for this low-hanging factual fruit.”

    Courts Appellate Fifth Circuit Debt Buyer Debt Collection

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  • District Court approves $500 million tribal lending settlement

    Courts

    On May 12, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia preliminarily approved a nearly $500 million class action settlement resolving allegations that tribal online lending companies charged usurious interest rates. Plaintiffs’ filings outline their class action against tribal entities, as well as several of the entities’ non-tribal business partners (individual defendants), for making and collecting on high-interest loans.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit previously upheld a district court’s denial of defendants’ bid to dismiss or compel arbitration in the case (covered by InfoBytes here). The 4th Circuit concluded that the arbitration clauses in the loan agreements impermissibly forced borrowers to waive their federal substantive rights under federal consumer protection laws, and contained an unenforceable tribal choice-of-law provision because Virginia law caps general interest rates at 12 percent. As such, the appellate court stated that the entire arbitration provision was unenforceable. “The [t]ribal [l]enders drafted an invalid contract that strips borrowers of their substantive federal statutory rights,” the appellate court wrote. “[W]e cannot save that contract by revising it on appeal.”

    The 4th Circuit also declined to extend tribal sovereign immunity to the tribal officials, determining that while “the tribe itself retains sovereign immunity, it cannot shroud its officials with immunity in federal court when those officials violate applicable state law.” The appellate court further noted that the “Supreme Court has explicitly blessed suits against tribal officials to enjoin violations of federal and state law.”

    Following more than three years of litigation, the parties eventually reached a settlement that will include tribal officials canceling approximately $450 million in debt. As part of the settlement, the tribal officials will eliminate the balance on any outstanding loans on the basis that the debts are disputed, cease all collection activity, and will not sell, transfer, or assign any outstanding loans for collection. Tribal officials will also request deletion of any negative tradelines for loans in the name of tribal officials or tribal corporations, and will pay an additional $1 million to cover the costs of notice and administration for the settlement and $75,000 to go towards service awards. Additionally, the individual defendants will create a $39 million common fund that will go to class members who repaid unlawful amounts on their loans. Class counsel is also seeking attorneys’ fees and costs totaling around $13 million.

    Courts Tribal Lending Usury Settlement Online Lending Consumer Finance Interest Rate Appellate Fourth Circuit

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  • 9th Circuit: Incomplete loan modification application bars plaintiff's CA Homeowner Bill of Rights claims

    Courts

    On May 11, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed dismissal of a plaintiff’s allegations that a lender violated RESPA and the California Homeowner Bill of Rights (HBOR), breached its contract, and breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The court also dismissed the plaintiff’s request for promissory estoppel. In affirming the district court, the appellate court determined that the plaintiff’s HBOR claims failed, specifically because the plaintiff insufficiently showed that she incurred actual damages because of a RESPA violation. The appellate court also agreed that the plaintiff’s HBOR claims failed because she did not submit a complete application. Under HBOR, mortgage servicers are prohibited from reporting a notice of default if a lender’s “complete application for a first lien loan modification” is pending. The appellate court concluded that the plaintiff failed to sufficiently show that she had submitted a complete loan modification application, and did not demonstrate that she took follow-up action in response to a letter stating her loan modification application was incomplete, meaning her claim failed.

    With respect to the plaintiff’s remaining claims, the 9th Circuit held, among other things, that the lender’s “alleged promise to consider plaintiff’s loan modification application upon dismissal of her lawsuit was neither sufficiently definite to create a contract nor sufficiently ‘clear and unambiguous to support a promissory estoppel.’” Moreover, the plaintiff’s claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing also failed because she could not prove breach of contract. Specifically, she did not state a claim for breach of the deed of trust because, as the plaintiff herself noted, “she failed to perform under the deed of trust when she did not make loan payments, and performance under the contract is a necessary element of a breach of contract claim.”

    The dissenting judge disagreed with the majority in two key respects. First, the judge argued the majority wrongfully rejected the plaintiff’s HBOR claim because the complaint contended that the lender “would send out such boilerplate letters so that it did not have to comply with the requirement that it cease foreclosure activities once an application is complete,” and that “a lender’s bad faith conduct does not render a borrower’s application incomplete.” Regarding the plaintiff’s good faith and fair dealing claim, the judge argued that the plaintiff plausibly alleged that she submitted a complete application to the lender. According to the complaint, the plaintiff submitted the necessary documents and was allegedly informed by the lender’s lawyer that “her application was ‘in review, which meant that plaintiff’s application was complete.’”

    Courts Appellate Mortgages Consumer Finance Ninth Circuit State Issues California

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  • CFPB, FTC weigh in on consumer reporting obligations under the FCRA

    Federal Issues

    On May 5, the CFPB and FTC filed a joint amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, seeking the reversal of a district court’s decision which determined that a consumer reporting agency (CRA) was not liable under Section 1681e(b) of the FCRA for allegedly failing to investigate inaccurate information because the inaccuracy was “legal” and not “factual” in nature. The agencies countered that the FCRA, which requires credit reporting companies to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information included in consumer reports, “does not contain an exception for legal inaccuracies.”

    The plaintiff noticed that the CRA reported that she owed a balloon payment on an auto lease that she was not obligated to pay under the terms of the lease. After the plaintiff confirmed she did not owe a balloon payment, she filed a putative class action against the CRA contending that it violated the FCRA by inaccurately reporting the debt. The CRA countered that it could not be held liable because “it is not obligated to resolve a legal challenge to the validity of the balloon payment obligation reported by” the furnisher “and that it reasonably relied on [the furnisher] to report accurate information.” Moreover, the CRA argued that even if it did violate the FCRA, the plaintiff was not entitled to damages because the violation was neither willful nor negligent. The district court sided with the CRA, drawing a distinction between factual and legal inaccuracies and holding that whether the plaintiff actually owed the balloon payment was a “legal dispute” requiring “a legal interpretation of the loan’s terms.” According to the district court, “CRAs cannot be held liable when the accuracy at issue requires a legal determination as to the validity of the debt the agency reported.” The court further concluded that since the plaintiff had not met the “threshold showing” of inaccuracy, the information in the consumer report “was accurate,” and therefore the CRA was “entitled to summary judgment because ‘reporting accurate information absolves a CRA of liability.’”

    In urging the appellate court to overturn the decision, the agencies argued that the exemption for legal inaccuracies created by the district court is unsupported by statutory text and is not workable in practice. This invited defense, the FTC warned in its press release, “invites [CRAs] and furnishers to skirt their legal obligations by arguing that inaccurate information is only legally, and not factually, inaccurate.” The FTC further cautioned that a CRA might begin manufacturing “some supposed legal interpretation to insulate itself from liability,” thus increasing the number of inaccurate credit reports.

    Whether the plaintiff owed a balloon payment and how much she owed “are straightforward questions about the nature of her debt obligations,” the agencies stated, urging the appellate court to “clarify that any incorrect information in a consumer report, whether ‘legal’ or ‘factual’ in character, constitutes an inaccuracy that triggers reasonable-procedures liability under the FCRA.” The agencies also pressed the appellate court to “clarify that a CRA’s reliance on information provided by even a reputable furnisher does not categorically insulate the CRA from reasonable-procedures liability under the FCRA.”

    The Bureau noted that it also filed an amicus brief on April 7 in an action in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit involving the responsibility of furnishers to reasonably investigate the accuracy of furnished information after it is disputed by a consumer. In this case, a district court found that the plaintiff, who reported several fraudulent credit card accounts, did not identify any particular procedural deficiencies in the bank’s investigation of her indirect disputes and granted summary judgment in favor of the bank on the grounds that the “investigation duties FCRA imposes on furnishers [are] ‘procedural’ and ‘far afield’ from legal ‘questions of liability under state-law principles of negligence, apparent authority, and related inquiries.’ Moreover, the district court concluded that there was no genuine dispute as to whether the bank conducted a reasonable investigation as statutorily required. The Bureau noted in its press release, however, that the bank “had the same duty to reasonably investigate the disputed information, regardless of whether the underlying dispute could be characterized as “legal” or “factual.” In its brief, the Bureau urged the appellate court to, among other things, reverse the district court’s ruling and clarify that the “FCRA does not categorically exempt disputes presenting legal questions from the investigation furnishers must conduct.” Importing this exemption would run counter to the purposes of FCRA, would create an unworkable standard that would be difficult to implement, and could encourage furnishers to evade their statutory obligations any time they construe the disputes as “legal.” The brief also argued that each time a furnisher fails to reasonably investigate a dispute results in a new statutory violation, with its own statute of limitations.

    Federal Issues Courts CFPB FTC FCRA Credit Report Consumer Reporting Agency Appellate Second Circuit Eleventh Circuit Credit Furnishing Consumer Finance

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  • 1st Circuit: Bankruptcy Code “unequivocally strips tribes” of their sovereign immunity to sue

    Courts

    On May 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed a district court’s decision, ruling that American tribes are not exempt from federal law barring suits against debtors once they file for bankruptcy. The debtor (plaintiff) in 2019 took out a $1,100 payday loan from a creditor (appellee), who is a subsidiary of a tribe. He voluntarily filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition, listing his debt to the appellee, which had increased to approximately $1,600, as a nonpriority unsecured claim. He also listed the appellee on the petition’s creditor matrix, and his attorney mailed the appellee a copy of the proposed Chapter 13 plan. When the plaintiff filed the petition, the Bankruptcy Code imposed an automatic stay enjoining “debt-collection efforts outside the umbrella of the bankruptcy case.” The appellee continued to attempt to contact the plaintiff regarding the debt, but the plaintiff had allegedly previously notified the appellee’s representatives that he had filed for bankruptcy. Two months after the plaintiff filed the petition, he claimed that his “mental and financial agony would never end,” and blamed his agony on the appellee’s “regular and incessant telephone calls, emails and voicemails.” To stop the appellee’s collection efforts, the plaintiff relocated to enforce the automatic stay against the appellee and its corporate parents and sought an order prohibiting future collection efforts, as well as damages, attorney's fees, and expenses. In response, the tribe and its affiliates asserted tribal sovereign immunity and moved to dismiss the enforcement proceeding. The bankruptcy court agreed with the tribe and granted the motions to dismiss.

    On the appeal, the tribe argued that the Bankruptcy Code cannot abrogate tribal sovereign immunity because it never uses the word “tribe.” The appellate court noted that the argument “boils down to a magic-words requirement” that tribes must be mentioned in order to be covered by a law, but U.S. Supreme Court precedent “forbids us from adopting a magic-words test.” However, the appellate court further noted that Congress did not determine that tribes were subject to the Code, stating that “[e]ven if Congress need not use magic words to make clear that its abrogation provision applies to Indian tribes, it must at least use words that clearly and unequivocally refer to Indian tribes if it wishes to make that abrogation provision apply to them.” The appellate court ruled that Congress took away tribes' sovereign immunity as “domestic governments” covered by the Bankruptcy Code, stating that even though tribes are not explicitly named in the Code, “we have no doubt that Congress understood tribes to be domestic dependent nations,” and since those “are a form of domestic government, it follows that Congress understood tribes to be domestic governments.”

    Courts Appellate First Circuit Tribal Immunity Debt Collection Bankruptcy Consumer Finance

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  • Florida Court of Appeal: Bank may seek attorney’s fees as a condition of loan reinstatement

    Courts

    On May 4, the Florida Court of Appeal, Fourth District, held that a borrower cannot sue a law firm for sending a letter seeking to collect attorney’s fees because the mortgage contract gave the bank the right to seek attorney’s fees from a prior foreclosure action as a condition of reinstating the loan. Previously, a trial court had awarded the borrower attorney’s fees following dismissal of a prior foreclosure action. The bank later brought a new foreclosure action against the borrower concerning the same property, and the law firm representing the bank sent the borrower a reinstatement letter requiring payment of attorney’s fees incurred by the bank in the prior foreclosure action in order to reinstate the loan. The trial court, citing a 2019 decision in U.S. Bank Trust, N.A. v. Leigh, granted summary judgment in favor of the law firm on the grounds that “the law firm was entitled to immunity under the litigation privilege because the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA) claim was based on the reinstatement letter the law firm sent during the foreclosure proceedings” and because the borrower lacked standing.

    On appeal, the Court of Appeal agreed with the law firm that it was entitled to collect attorney fees and costs and that the borrower lacked standing to bring his FCCPA claim. According to the Court of Appeal, a provision in the mortgage contact included language that “if the borrower defaulted and the lender accelerated the loan, the borrower would have the right to reinstate the loan if certain conditions were met.” Among these conditions was that the borrower would agree to “pay all expenses incurred in enforcing this Security Instrument, including, but not limited to, reasonable attorneys’ fees.” Applying the rationale of Leigh, the Court of Appeal found “that the law firm did not violate the FCCPA because it sought to recover a legitimate expense it was entitled to recover pursuant to a contract, that being the expense of attorney’s fees the lender incurred in the prior foreclosure action.”

    Courts Consumer Finance Foreclosure Florida State Issues Appellate Attorney Fees

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